When you should (or shouldn't) bet a Pick 6

March 1st, 2023

The Pick 6 ranks among the most enticing of all horse racing wagers. In theory, a 20-cent wager can return more than a million dollars—you won’t get that by betting to show.

But effectively betting a Pick 6 can be difficult and expensive. Carefully choosing your spots is critical if you want to enjoy long-term success.

That’s why we’ve compiled a series of guidelines to determine when you should (or shouldn’t) bet a Pick 6:

You should consider betting a Pick 6…

… When you can find at least one strong single: Winning a Pick 6 requires selecting the winners of six consecutive races. If the races feature large fields, there might be more than a million possible outcomes. Betting a sequence in which you feel confident supporting one or more “singles” can greatly reduce the cost of betting or allow you to spread deeper in more challenging races.

… When there’s a non-jackpot carryover up for grabs: A carryover occurs when no one hits a Pick 6 and a portion of the unclaimed betting pool is carried over to the next day’s Pick 6 pool, adding value to the wagering proposition. A carryover can largely or even entirely offset takeout, so all else being equal, betting a Pick 6 with a carryover is superior to betting one without a carryover.

… When a jackpot carryover is slated for mandatory dispersal: The mandatory payout of a jackpot-style Pick 6 wager can be an even better betting proposition than a regular carryover. Jackpot-style carryovers (explained in greater detail below) can exceed the million-dollar mark, and on mandatory payout days the pool must be distributed among bettors who select the highest number of winners in the Pick 6. That’s right—a winning ticket isn’t necessarily required. If no one picks all six winners, five of six will earn a share of the pool.

You should consider skipping a Pick 6…

… When you can’t find a trustworthy single: A single isn’t required for betting a Pick 6, particularly if you’re spending a lot of money to chase a large carryover. But to thoroughly attack a Pick 6 without a single is a costly endeavor. If you’re playing on a budget and can’t find a trustworthy single to build tickets around, you might be better off pursuing a different Pick 6.

… When you have no opinions in several of the races: Even if you have a rock-solid single in one or two races, you might want to skip betting a Pick 6 if several other races appear inscrutable. Maybe four of the events are grass races with large fields, and you have better luck handicapping dirt races. Or maybe there are three maiden races filled with unpredictable first-time starters. Successfully betting the Pick 6 on a regular basis requires playing each leg with diligence, and if you feel you’d be guessing in several races, you might want to await a better opportunity.

… When it’s a jackpot-style wager: Jackpot-style Pick 6 wagers set aside a portion of each day’s pool to fund a steadily increasing “jackpot” carryover that is awarded only in the event someone constructs a unique winning ticket. On days when multiple winning tickets are sold, only a diminished portion of daily pool is distributed among winning ticketholders. Jackpot-style wagers usually come with lower minimum bet amounts than non-jackpot wagers, making them more affordable to play, but unless you construct a unique winning ticket (which isn’t easy), the return on investment is unlikely to be as large as you might hope.

… When the expected pool is small: The payoff for a Pick 6 is limited by the amount of money in the pool. If a small track draws a pool of $500 after takeout, $500 is the maximum payoff you can receive, even if you select six consecutive 50-1 winners and hold the only winning ticket. If you’re going to take aim at a Pick 6, make sure the day’s betting pool is large enough to make the risk vs. reward ratio worthwhile.

There are exceptions to every rule, and you may encounter situations when going against these guidelines makes perfect betting sense. But in general, following the tips we’ve outlined will help guide you toward effective Pick 6 betting strategies.